Lebanon's Hezbollah supporters chant slogans during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018.
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
The IDF operation, launched on Tuesday to uncover and destroy cross-border attack tunnels Hezbollah has dug into Israel, is just one of the reasons for the rise in tensions in recent weeks along Israel’s northern border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise trip Monday night to Brussels to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was said to have been about Israeli concerns regarding Hezbollah’s military buildup in Lebanon. It was, and that briefing included talk about the tunnels and the threat they pose to Israeli civilians. Netanyahu smartly wanted to update the Americans before the operation began.
While the IDF Northern Command is on high alert for now, Military Intelligence is not predicting the operation will trigger a conflict with Hezbollah. Thus residents of the North have been instructed to continue their daily routine. The reason is that, for now, the operation is taking place entirely on Israeli territory, and is defensive in nature. Hence Hezbollah would have difficulty justifying an attack on Israel.
The tunnels, and the need for an operation to uncover and destroy them, was known to the Security Cabinet when it convened on November 13 and decided to accept a ceasefire with Hamas
and not launch a larger offensive against the Gaza Strip following the firing of almost 500 rockets into Israel
The ministers were presented with the tunnel threat along the border with Lebanon as well as with the need to launch an operation to destroy the underground passageways. The IDF and Netanyahu all agreed that the Lebanese border needed Israel’s full attention and that an operation against Hamas would have been, at that time, an unnecessary distraction.
The tunnels also seem to be what Netanyahu was referring to when he announced two-and-a-half weeks ago that he was holding onto the defense portfolio in wake of the resignation of defense minister Avigdor Liberman
. Netanyahu claimed that there was a mysterious security situation unfolding, which he said at the time, he could not reveal to the public.
“I will not say when we will act and how we will act,” Netanyahu said on November 18. “I have a clear plan. I know what to do and when to do it. And we will do it.”
While the Hezbollah tunnels were part of this “situation”, they are not the only concern Israel has today when it comes to Lebanon.
Israel is increasingly concerned with Hezbollah and Iranian efforts to improve the precision and range of the Lebanese terrorist group’s missile arsenal
. This is being done through the establishment of new missile production facilities in Lebanon – the existence of which Netanyahu revealed at the United Nations in September – as well as with the transfer of new and advanced weapons systems from Iran and Syria, possibly through some of the Iranian transport planes that have begun landing recently at Beirut International Airport.
The tense reality along the border will continue and while Israel will do what it can to avoid a full-fledged war, it will need to ensure that certain lines are not crossed that could undermine its operational freedom ahead of a future conflict with Hezbollah.
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